James Oddie

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James Oddie, University of Ballarat Historical Collection.
Ballarat Gold Pioneers Prior to the Issue of the Gold License, 1851


James Oddie is often referred to as the Father of Ballarat. When his father died in 1839 James became an apprentice moulder. He moved to Manchester, England, in the employ of James Nasmyth. As a boy he witnessed the agitation for Parliamentary reform and Chartist demonstrations.

Oddie migrated to Australia with his wife on the Larpent and arrived at Geelong on 28 June 1849, the same year in which his wife died. In 1850 he married Mary McCormick.

Oddie ran a foundry at Geelong until the announcement of gold in August 1851. He became one of the first prospectors at Golden Point, Ballarat, and was known to have been digging for gold in September 1851. He then travelled around the goldfields with Thomas Bath, returning to Ballarat to establish a store on the diggings.

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

Walter E. Pidgeon, Illustration from The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni, Sunnybrook Press, 1942, offset print.
Art Gallery of Ballarat, purchased 1994.

In 1854 Oddie moved his store to near the Eureka Stockade, and attended many of the protest meetings, and witnessed the battle.

James Oddie begs to inform the public, that having obtained an Auctioneer's License, he is, from his long and extensive knowledge of the Ballarat district, its buisiness and mining population favorably situated for the Sale of Land, and every other description of property, trusts, that by attention and puncuality to his orders, to merit pubilc patronage. Place of business for the present, at his late Store, near Bentley's Eureka Hotel.[1]

The Eureka Stockade Anniversary
The following letter signed James Oddie appeared in Wednesday's Ballarat Star " in reference to the fight at the Eureka Stockade: — Sir, — This is the 48th anniversary of the massacre of the innocent diggers within and without the [Eureka Stockade]. My store was in proximity — so near that the first volley woke me up, when speedily I passed out to the front with my wife, and then saw how matters stood. The mounted police held a position at the south-west corner, and were in considerable numbers. The light was not sufficient to enable us to see the work going on inside. Meantime a crowd of people from their tents gathered on the apex of of Stockyard Hill to learn what was going on, when two of the mounted police were detached, and galloped a couple of hundred yards into their midst, and we could see their sabres glistening in the sun when taking their overhead strokes, cutting the people down. How many perished I cannot tell, but there must have been a considerable number. The whole work was soon over, aud between 5 and 6 o'clock I went over to the stockade and counted 22 dead bodies. Many of them were roasted like pigs at the Chinese Camp. In the attack the tents had been fired, and the poor fellows had, when wounded, fled there for shelter and so ended their fate. I saw the body of the German ginger beer man covered with bayonet wounds, and a person who counted them said they numbered 17. The sight was sickening, and I did not remain long. Meantime the attacking party departed taking with them their dead and 60 prisoners, as reported afterwards. The number reported killed in Withers' History is from 30 to 40, but many were mutilated in addition, and occasionally one may be seen now without an arm, a fine, tall respectable fellow, having weathered the battle of life minus his arm. Of Captain Ross it is said — and I have upon absolute authority— that when the attacking force entered the stockade he threw up his arms in token of surrender, when a rifle was raised and a bullet put through his chest and I saw him carried past my store on improvised stretcher to the Star Hotel, Main road, where he died next day. Captain Wise was wounded, and died two days after ; while another officer was wounded and three soldiers met their deaths. Although the writer was not mixed up in any way with the aggressive party, I came in for a share of risks, and from both sides. On the evening of Saturday, at 10-30, I was in the act of retiring for the night, when the sound of horses' feet was heard pas sing in the direction of the stable, and moving to a door leading from the store into it, I found two mounted men and horses filling the en trance opening. The men instantly demanded horse feed for the Commissary Department. Demanding an order from Mr Lalor, I was instantly covered by a brace of revolvers. Still declining, an outburst of curses followed, which were exhausted now and again and quickly renewed at a short interval. The refusal was reiterated, and this was kept up for 40 minutes the faces of the patriots giving evidence of strong internal emotions, now contracting and then relaxing. The strain was tremendous, and the eye of the writer was steadily fixed on the objectives, and was not sorry to see the horses backed out of the opening, and no more heard the visitors. At the inception of the interview my wife took up her stand at my side, tried to speak, but failed to articulate a word, and so to the end. After the burning of Bentley's hotel and the arrest of three of the participators in this work, the authorities be came very pronounced in their administration of the law, and in this came a small share to my lot. On a clear sunny day in November, being behind the store counter, a small man walked in and asked for a nobbler of brandy, and on my re plying in the negative, " Don't sell brandy, " he reiterated his application, holding between his thumb and first finger a shilling, and saying, "It is all right." Still refused, the third request was made and refused, when Mr George Lilley, auctioneer, Humffray street, broke in and said, "You are come to the wrong place this time," and simultaneously a mounted trooper in uniform rode his horse into the opening of the store to see his friend drinking his brandy. Thus it came about that the writer was privileged by having been offered money by the police to violate the law. Volumes could be written of facts and incidents of every day occurrence, novel and unique, which in years to come might be of value to the historian, but enough. The next anniversary will be a suitable time to pre pare for the jubilee a " Guild of Eureka Stockade Massacre," with a permanent committee and officers.[2]

Post 1854 Experiences

Oddie was recorded on the 1855 Electoral Roll, under the electoral qualification of Freehold. He ran an auction business in partnership with his brother Thomas Oddie.

In 1856 Oddie became the first Chairman of the Ballarat Municipal Council. He sold Raffaello Carboni’s book The Eureka Stockade.

It was said that “Among the few who stood by the grave [of James Esmond] in the new cemetery was another pioneer, Mr Jas. Oddie, F.R.S., who was in Eureka when James Esmond, under the command of the late Peter Lalor, formed one of the band of insurgents who fought the British troops in the endeavour to secure fair play for the diggers then in Ballarat.[3]

His Wesleyan upbringing was evident and Oddie was one of the initial party to establish a Wesleyan Church, first at Magpie, and then in Ballarat. His philanthropic nature was apparent and many of our worthy institutions owe their origins to James Oddie. He was a member of many committees, including Ballarat Hospital, Benevolent Asylum, National Schools Committee, Female Refuge, and many others.

In Ballarat on 6 May 1856 Oddie chaired a meeting in which it was agreed to follow the lead of Melbourne Stonemasons, who had gained the eight hour day a fortnight before. Great strides were made during the 1860s, but were more difficult to achieve during the recession of the 1870s.

Peter Lalor Statue, Sturt Street, Ballarat, c1954.

Oddie was a lifelong friend of Peter Lalor. He supported Peter Lalor’s electoral nomination, was responsible for the Lalor Statue in Sturt Street, and was instrumental in the organisation of the 50th anniversary of Eureka celebration is 1904. He accepted the Eureka Flag from the King family for preservation at the Ballaarat Fine Art Gallery, another worthwhile institution that he started.

At one time Oddie was one of Ballarat’s wealthiest citizens, but he was financially crippled in 1990 as a result of the Mercantile Bank collapse.

Oddie demonstrated an extraordinary respect for the diggers who fought for their political and civil rights in Ballarat in 1854. He also secured Von Guerard's "Old Ballarat in 1853" and Samuel Huyghue's plan of the attack on the [Eureka Stockade] for the gallery [4]


'Sketch of the Ballarat Goldfield, 1851, University of Ballarat Historical Collection.
James Oddie
In 1856 became first Chairman of the Ballarat Municipality. He was elected Vice President of SMB in February 1881, resigning in 1887.
Oddie erected and equipped the astronomical observatory for SMB at his own expense in 1885. A site was reserved at Mt Pleasant in Ballarat East gazetted by the Government in November 1884.
Oddie was a trustee of the SMB Museum building, and was a generous benefactor to SMB. He died on 3 March 1911 aged 88.
In giving a short biographical sketch of Mr James Oddie, we feel sure that we cannot fail to interest the students. So closely was Mr Oddie connected with Ballarat's early days that this article should be doubly interesting. These indeed were the days in which Ballarat "hummed;" days in which Ballarat was a canvas town, when all that was necessary to own, manage, and work a mine was a tin dish and a shovel (no Petrology to pass), and when gold was talked of by the pounds and "dwts." Were scorned.
Mr Oddie took an active part in the proceedings of those days, and when the "Mag" reporter called on him he was very willing to furnish us with some particulars of his interesting career.
Mr Oddie arrives at Geelong in the "Larpent" on 29 June 1849. He did not immediately come to Ballarat, but started a foundry in Geelong, where he remained for more than 2 years.
In the year 1851 the Victorian Government offered a reward of £200 to anyone who should discover a goldfield. Two parties were formed, each under the guidance of a man who had some knowledge of alluvial gold. Prospectors from this parties discovered "color" at Golden Point on the same day. This was in August 1851. AS a result of this prospectors were attracted to what is now Ballart.
At this time Mr Oddie began to be affected with "yellow fever", and cast longing eyes Ballaratwards. He was the lucky possessor of a horse, but had no dray, when one day two men, who had a dray but no horse, came to him and proposed forming a party to go to the diggings. This was speedily agreed to, and they set out a few days afterwards. They arrived in Buninyong on the Saturday before the 1st of September, and remained their till this date. People in "the ancient village" were very excited about the gold discovery only six miles away.
Mr Oddie and his party arrived at Golden Point on 1st September, 1851, at half-past tow in the afternoon. They were following the track of a bulock-waggon, which was on its road to the sheep station, which included present Ballarat and a good deal more; and hen they arrived on the scene bullocks still stood in the yolk. Near them a woman (YES A WOMAN!!!) was standing looking at the new settlement. According to Mr Oddie's firm belief this was the first woman in or "on" Ballarat. Unfortunately her name is unknown.
Ballarat then consisted on seven tents, one of which had been erected that same day. Mr Oddie and his companions lost no time, but at once set to work to build a dwelling with saplings. It was constructed of green timber, and the roof and sides were made of interlaced boughs. The dimensions were so small that when bedtime came no walking space was left. Mr Oddie, being the youngest of the party, was persuaded to sleep nearest the entrance, which faced west * the weather side. It was no unusual thing to be walked three or four times in the night by sleet and rain driving through the boughs. This hut formed their dwelling for 28 days, at the end of which time a more permanent abode was constructed. The sides were still interlaced boughs, but the rood consisted of a tarpaulin. To this edifice Mr Oddie bought his wife from Geelong.
The party had commenced operations, and were getting about 1¾ ozs per day for eight men. On one afternoon the reporter of the "Geelong Advertiser" who had been sent up to report on the field, asked Mr Oddie how much he was getting. Mr Oddie gave the required information, and for doing so was reproached by other parties of diggers in nor gentle terms, for they feared a "rush".
A party a few claims away was getting 30 ozs per day, but Mr Oddie's best afternoon was 8 ½ oz. The gold at the time sold in Ballarat for £2 12s 6d per oz., though in England was worth £4 4s. After the report was published there was a general rush to the field, and after ten days there were only 3 men left in Geelong. An in 15 a great number of people from Melbourne arrived.
Gold was then found at Clunes by a man name Esmond, who at the tie of his discovery was digging post holes. This man had previously been in California, and thus had a knowledge of the yellow dust. This Mr Esmond afterwards came to Ballarat, and on Mr Oddie's invitation washed a dish of dirt, and was presented with the gold obtained.
Previous to Mr Oddie's arrival at Ballarat, a Government Commissioner had bee up to advise issue licenses, but as no payable dirt had then been the diggers and measure out their claims; also to found he promised to return to Melbourne and come back in two months, and if the field had been payable the diggers were to purchase licenses. On the 19th September, however, two other Commissioners came up, Doveton and Armstrong, with 15 black troopers under Captain Dana. This infuriated the diggers, and a man by the name of Connor, in whose hut the Commissioners were officiating, got up on a stump and spoke to the diggers with regard to the "breach of promise" on the part of the Government. He was the first , however, to pay his license, and on emerging form the Commissioner's office (his own hut) he was struck by his fellow digger. Through Mr Oddie's timely intervention, however, further trouble was averted , and Connor allowed to go on his way in peace instead of in pieces (N.B. * Joke). This little incident was probably the origin of the trouble between the Government and the diggers.
With regard to the phenomenal yields of this field at that time Mr Oddie tells some interesting stories.
Two brothers, who were quarrymen, were working at the other end of Mr Oddie's claim, and eventually came close up to his hut. Mr Oddie's mates protested, but he, being of a peaceful turn of mind, and consisting there were acres of untouched ground, said their would be plenty left for all and no need to quarrel. It was not until 20 years afterwards that Mr Oddie was aware of the fact that 37lbs of gold had been got almost directly underneath his humble couch. A short distance away another party got 70lbs in 10 days.
Mr Lewis, a Wesleyan minister, from Geelong preached to the diggers in Mr Oddie's house, and the collection was so encouraging that a church was built on similar lines to the house. The Methodist Minister from Buninyong now became a regular visitor. At the end of 6 weeks gold was discovered at Mr Alexander, and Ballarat was reported as done. As Mr Oddie was leaving his camp a spring cart drove up. "Come with me?" said Mr Oddie to its occupant. "I will take you to a place where there is gold." The occupant of the cart was Mr Thos. Bath, to whom we are indebted for our engineering lab., and an annuity.
As an interesting incident of what may happen on a goldfield when new chums are looking for the dust, Mr Oddie, who had recently imported his brother to Ballarat, and escorted him to within 60 yard of a place were nuggets of 134, 126, 90 and 30lbs of loose gold had been found, related how as he came to see how his brother was getting on, he found him throwing out the precious metal by the "shovelful." "What are you doing?" he said in broad Lancashire. "Shovelling dirt," was the reply. The question and answers were repeated three times. Mr Oddie's brother was beginning to think there was a hidden meaning in the repeated question, and at last angrily asked what it was. "What doust thou call that?" Asked Mr Oddie, picking up a handful of dirt in which the golden grains clustered thick as sunbeams.[5]
Eugene von Guerard, Old Ballarat as it was in the summer of 1853-54, 1884, oil on canvas, mounted on board, Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection, Gift of James Oddie on Eureka Day, 1885.

In The News

Monument to the Eureka Victims.— A meeting of the friends and members of the committee for the purposo of raising funds to erect the monument so gene rously presented by Mr Legget, was held in the Eureka Hotel last evening. Patrick Curtain was called to the chair, find briefly stated the purpose of the meeting. Mr Donovan said that Mr Leggat had kindly offered to place at the disposal of the committee a very handsome monument, on condition of their paying tho expense of carriage from Geelong, and of erecting it at the grave yard. Mr Fahey moved, and Mr Harrington seconded, " That the secretary be instructed to write to Mr Leggat, and thank him for his Handsome offer of a monument to the victims of the Eureka massacre; and, in acccpting it, to express to him the high sense entertained by the committee of his liberal and patriotic gift.' Car ried. It was resolved, " That a public meeting for the purpose of erecting a monument to the Eureka victims be held on Saturday next, at four o'clock, on the site of the Eureka Stockade.' ' That a public meeting be held at Frenchman's Lead, near the All Nations Hotel, for the same purpose, on Saturday next, at four o'clock. 'That subscription lists be printed, for the purpose of collecting money to defray the necessary expenses con nected with the objects of the foregoing resolutions." 'That Mr James Oddie be appointed treasurer of the committee. " And " That Messrs Sam Irwin, J.P., T. D. Wanliss, and W. D. C. Denovan, be appointed a sub-committee to draw up a suitable inscription for the monument, and also to communicate on the subject with Peter Lalor, Esq., M.L.C." After a vote of thanks to the Chairman, the meeting separated. — Star.[6]

A meeting of the executive committee was held on Tuesday evening; Mr R. Lewis in the chair. Present,— Messrs Ferguson, Bechervaise, Josephs, Williams, Roff, Spain, Morrison, Hall, Dyte, and Wilson. Donations were received from the following mining companies: Royal Saxon, Maxwell’s, New, Britannia, Kong Meng, and Imperial; also; Australian Natives' Association, Ballarat, Creswick, and Stawell branches; Buninyong Miners' Association, St. John's Church Improvement Society, Tinsmiths’ Society; Typographical Society; from Messrs Wanliss, Wilson, Serjeant, McGovern, M’Donald, Salter, Oddie, Russell, Glenn, Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, Hickman, Ferguson, Hill, Fincham, and others. Poetic contributions from J. W. Mills and William Walker, of Ballarat; and William Rankin, of Craigie, were received with thanks. Seven designs for the memorial were submitted; those marked “Piper," King," and “Pioneer" were highly approved of, and ultimately the design of Mr H. A. King, of Ballarat East, was accepted. It was decided that specifications be prepared, with the view; of calling for tenders forthwith. The committee meet on the ground, in company with the Town Council on Friday, 25th-instant, for the purpose of selecting the site, as there appears a conflict of evidence as to the actual position of the Stockade.[7]
MR. JAMES ODDIE, who last week returned from Europe, after a four years' absence, was entertained at a banquet in the Town Hall, Ballarat, on Tuesday night, by a number of leading citizens. Mr. Oddie intimated that when at home he had ordered a bronze statue of the late Speaker, Mr. Peter Lalor, and it would probably be erected on the site of the Eureka Stockade the next anniversary of the inauguration of Australian liberty, namely, the 3rd December.[8]

To-night the anniversary of the Eureka! Stockade will form the subject of a lecture to be delivered at the City Hall by Mr James Oddie. There are but few of the old pioneers who are so qualified to speak on such a subject, and fewer still who have taken the trouble to gather together so much material bearing on that tragic chapter of the history of Ballarat. Mr Oddie will deal with the advent of the diggers on Ballarat in 1851, and will not only review the history of this great City through its period of infancy up to the time of its maturity, but will look for ward to 1906, the jubilee year of the foundation of the City Council, of which he was the first chairman. The lecture will bo profusely illustrated by limelight views, and as the proceeds of the lecture—the charge being a silver coin—are to go to the poor funds of the Old Colonists' Association, one of the most unostentatious, as well as the most deserving, of Ballarat charitable institutions, there should be large attendance.[9]

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS. - Sir-I think that any person knowing Mr. Oddie would know he would not exaggerate about the Eureka Stockade. I wish to inform Mr. Sadlier I am the person who conveyed the bodies of Gittens and O'Neill to Ballarat Cemetery on that memorable 3rd of December, 1854, and on the body of one of those there were 10 wounds. I will let the public of the present day judge for themselves whether that was butchery or not.
Yours. &c., . M. BOLGER.[10]

See also

Thomas Bath

James Esmond

Peter Lalor

Charles Ross

Stockyard Hill

Further Reading

Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.


  1. Ballarat Times, 21 October 1854.
  2. Mount Alexander Mail, 05 December 1902.
  3. Clunes Guardian, 9 December 1890.
  4. Association [magazine of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery Association], Winter 2011.
  5. Ballarat School of Mines Student's Magazine, Vol. VIII, No 3., 1905.
  6. The Age, 02 February 1856.
  7. Ballarat Star, 16 July 1884.
  8. The Advocate, 26 April 1890.
  9. Ballarat Star, 3 December 1903.
  10. The Argus, 20 September 1913.

External links